x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

UFC is caged and ready to rumble

The infrastructure for Saturday's Ultimate Fighting Championship in Abu Dhabi is taking shape.

Going up: work takes place at the the venue for the Ultimate Fighting Championship at Ferrari World on Yas Island.
Going up: work takes place at the the venue for the Ultimate Fighting Championship at Ferrari World on Yas Island.

ABU DHABI // Some of the world's best mixed-martial arts fighters have been intensely preparing for Saturday's Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout in the capital for months now. But they have not been they only ones. For Lee Charteris, the director of operations for the event organisers, Flash, and the army of 300 staff and sub-contractors he commands, the work started in early December.

That was when construction of a purpose-built venue that will be able to hold more than 12,000 people at the Ferrari World amusement park on Yas Island began. He said the structures his company built for the Aerosmith and Beyoncé concerts during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year were impressive enough.

"I thought we had pushed the boat out. But we have gone one [step further] this time. This is the biggest thing I have ever built." It will be an evening of firsts - the UFC's Middle East debut as well as the first time the sport has staged a live event outdoors. Up until now, the UFC has preferred to use existing arenas that can seat around 20,000 spectators. With no such arena at their disposal in the capital, UFC's international development team and Flash took matters into their own hands.

"We have tried to create within that space what will be the crucible, this big, high-walled amphitheatre that focuses down on the fighters," Mr Charteris said. "We obviously provide grandstand seating at a lot of concerts, but this is different in that it's four large grandstands ? with even bigger structures behind them which house the video screens that will be showing the live fights." A structure above the Octagon - the cage in which the bouts take place - has been built to support the 24 tonnes of suspended audio and visual equipment needed to ensure both the spectators on hand and the millions expected to watch on pay-per-view television around the world will not be disappointed.

"I would say there will be more audio for UFC than the Aerosmith concert," Mr Charteris said. "It is bone-crushing." The 50th truckload of scaffolding was driven onto the site on Thursday as staff continued to work from dawn until dusk to ensure the venue would be ready to hand over to the UFC's international team, which arrived last weekend from the UK. Marshall Zelaznik, the managing director of UFC international development, said organisation from his side began even before the completion of UFC 110, its first foray into Australia, which took place in February.

That included booking flights for more than 100 people and co-ordinating the dietary, training and visa requirements for the fighters. Shipping the Octagon from the UK and transporting it to the site was a month-long process. Mr Zelaznik is expecting a stressful but rewarding week as he oversees final preparations for "one of the biggest TV productions for the sporting world". UFC employees have taken over two hotels on Yas Island as they have arrived over the past week on flights from around the world.

Mr Zelaznik said UFC normally is ready in two days, but the new, outdoor venue will require additional time to test the lighting and music. The structure will be dismantled after the fights. loatway@thenational.ae